The Walton Electric Membership Corp. was hit with a $660,000 verdict, its post-apportionment share of a $1 million award delivered to a man rear-ended after he stopped for a utility pole repair crew.
The Walton County jury allocated 27 percent of the remaining liability the driver of the other vehicle and 7 percent to the county’s road department. Both were nonparty defendants.
Atlanta solo Ryan Johnson said the case was complicated by the fact that his client, who suffered neck injuries that required two surgeries, was already unable to work because of back injuries suffered in a prior wreck.
Plaintiff Dustin Beall, now 42, was a truck driver before his first accident.
“He had pre-existing low back issues and was basically disabled and hadn’t worked in years,” Johnson said.
“He had essentially become a stay-at-home dad, and we said that he’d really adjusted to his new life when this happened; that it was like one step forward and two steps back,” said Johnson, who tried the case with Jennifer Kurle of Decatur’s KurleLaw.
The Daily Report was unable to reach the defense counsel, Hugh McNatt and Hugh Peterson of Balch & Bingham’s Vidalia office.
According to Johnson and court filings, a storm blew down several Walton EMC power poles along a road in Monroe in April, 2014. Walton County sheriffs’ deputies closed down a portion of the road, and the county Roads and Bridges Department placed “Road Closed” signs at each end of the closed portion.
The deputies and county road workers left and an EMC crew proceeded to working on the power poles after nightfall.
Beall was in a Ford Explorer when he saw a “very bright light” that appeared to be in the oncoming lane of traffic, the pretrial order said. He then came to the barricade where the EMC employees were working, stopped and asked a worker how long the road would be closed.
According to the defense account, another EMC worker saw a truck approaching without any headlights whose driver appeared to be distracted. He yelled for Beall and his co-worker to look out, and the truck driven by Colby Massey plowed into Beall’s vehicle.
Massey was cited for following too closely, the order said.
Beall underwent two surgical spinal fusion operations and accrued about $206,000 in medical bills, Johnson said.
In 2015, Beall sued Massey and Walton EMC in Walton County Superior Court.
Both Massey and Beall’s insurers paid their $25,000 policy limits. Massey remained as a defendant but was dismissed shortly before trial, Johnson said.
EMC is insured by the Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange. Johnson said he believed there was a $1 million policy limit, but he never demanded it, and there was no mediation.
“Walton EMC made it clear from the get-go that they thought Colby Massey really had the bulk of the responsibility,” Johnson said. “As we got closer to trial, they seemed to be pointing more to the county and the sheriff’s department.”
The negligence portion of the verdict form included spaces for Beall, Massey, Walton EMC as well as the county Roads and Bridges and sheriff’s departments.
The trial before Judge Eugene Benton started Nov. 27 and lasted more than two days. Key expert testimony was provided for the plaintiff by Douglasville accident reconstructionist Herman Hill, while the defense relied on Daren Marceau from Cary, North Carolina, Johnson said.
The jury deliberated for about 12 hours over two days before return a verdict awarding Beall $1 million, with the EMC responsible for 66 percent.
Walton EMC’s portion is the only recoverable award, Johnson said.
He did not get a chance to speak to the jurors.
“They bolted for the door,” Johnson said.